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Pete Rose and the Hall of Fame
Published: 10/11/2014 11:51:29 AM

 

Pete Rose is an MLB legend. According to the statistics listed onbaseball-reference.com,Rose played seventeen All-Star seasons in his twenty-three year MLB career, most of which was played as a Cincinnati Red. A career .303 hitter, Rose holds the MLB record for most hits by a player with 4,256. Throughout his career, he averaged 194 hits per season. For comparison sake, the current 2014 no. 2 hits leader is Michael Brantley of the Cleveland Indians, who is on pace to reach 196 hits over the course of the full 162-game season. Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros is on pace to lead the league with 223 hits in 2014. In 1973, Rose had 230 hits, which is 36thall-time. (For good measure I’ll add that he is tied in this respect with Stan "The Man” Musial who had 230 hits in 1948.) In 1978, Rose recorded a 44-game hitting streak. He won the National League Rookie of the Year award in 1963 and is a fifteen time NL MVP. He managed the Reds for 4+ seasons from 1984-1989, earning 426 managerial wins. Rose was the last of the player-managers, holding such a position until he retired from playing in 1986. Today, almost 28 years after his retirement, Pete Rose is not in the MLB Hall of Fame.

Pete Rose is an MLB legend. In 1989, allegations arose that Pete had been betting on baseball. Rose loved to gamble, and an MLB investigation into such allegations under then Commissioner Bartlet Giamatti uncovered circumstantial evidence supporting the claims, concluding that it was likely that during his career as a player and as a manager Rose had placed bets on baseball and on his Cincinnati Reds…bets on teams and games in which Rose was himself a player. Certainly the conflict of interest will be evident to readers, though, without going too deep into MLB history, I think it is important to mention why Sporting News baseball writerJesse Spector would describe betting (not steroids) as baseball’s unforgivable sin.  In 1919, the Chicago White Sox intentionally lost the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds in order to collect from bets that they had made against themselves. The scandal had sweeping effects, keeping notable players such as Shoeless Joe Jackson out of Cooperstown and leading to the institution of the office of the commissioner. Today baseball fans refer to the 1919 team from Chicago’s south side as the Black Sox. As far as Spector is concerned, gambling is a "disease” that threatens the integrity of the entire game. In 1989, Rose signed an agreement with Giamatti and MLB that admitted the ambiguity of the evidence but asserted a one-year ban from baseball with the possibility of future reinstatement. Giamatti died three days later and today Rose remains shut out from the baseball and from the Hall of Fame.

The Pete Rose problem is significant in 2014 for two reasons. First, current baseball commissioner Bud Selig will retire at the end of this season and the reigns will be passed to Rob Manfred, who is now the acting MLB Chief Operating Officer. Will Manfred take a more forgiving stance toward Rose and allow his name to be placed on the Hall of Fame voting ballot, or will he continue his exile? Second, the 2015 MLB All-Star Game is set to be played in Cincinnati at Great American Ball Park. The opportunity to host an All-Star game is great marketing for the host team and the city, but it is also a time for the host franchise to celebrate its history, legacy, and contributions to baseball. The Cincinnati Reds is baseball’s oldest team. Will the legacy they present be one with or without Pete Rose? There are voices on both sides of the debate. Spector has a lot of support as he champions the continuation of Rose’s banishment. Others think that the real threat to baseball’s future is steroid and PED usage, and that Rose’s sins aren’t nearly as grievous or problematic as Alex Rodriguez’s, Mark McGwire’s, or Barry Bond’s. As I see it, the fate of Rose seems pretty linked with Bonds and McGwire. At some point, the questions must be resolved, and MLB must be consistent.

As I was reading and researching in preparation for this blog, I was struck by how blatantly theological are people’s considerations of Pete Rose’s situation. Whether it is Spector referring to Rose’s gambling as baseball’s "unforgiveable sin,” or Scott Raab declaring "Pete Rose in Purgatory,” it seems that theological language is the one that best allows people to conceive of the stakes of the discussion. Pete Rose was good enough to merit eternal enshrinement in the Hall, but by the mortal sin of gambling he instead earned his own damnation. Now either he is predestined to eternal exclusion, or he must absolve himself by undetermined amounts of pain and suffering in isolation. This certainly is a theological language, and it is a language spoken in many dialects, but it certainly is not a Christian language.

What if the word that God spoke to us was one of unrelenting and unyielding banishment as a result of our sin? What if God’s language didn’t include the words "mercy” or "compassion”? If Pete Rose did place bets on the teams which he played on and managed, then he certainly deserved what he got, but is there forgiveness in baseball? Maybe not. How desperate it must be to be cast aside and shamed by members of the community in which you once lived and thrived, with little to no hope for a return to the relationship that you once enjoyed. Theologically speaking, this desperation and hopelessness is humanity’s default setting. Those among us who would look coldly to Pete Rose as the recipient of justice must also look at ourselves with the same cold and monolithic declaration of guilt. Right relationship with God requires holiness and perfection. (Lev 19:2; Mt 5:48) Anyone who is ready to declare themselves righteous is either terribly confused or simply a liar.

But this cold justice is not the last word that God speaks to us. Instead, God speaks to the people whom he intentionally and carefully created with the words of a loving Father. After their sin had caused them to lose everything and brought suffering on themselves and all their children after, God spoke to Adam and Eve a promise of rescue from the consequences of sin. (Gen 3:14-15) When Abram was old and still without an heir, God spoke to him a promise of blessing for generations. (Gen 17:1-8) Outside of Jericho, Jesus spoke to blind Bartimaeus a promise of mercy and healing. (Mk 10:52) In his life and ministry, Jesus spoke to his disciples and to all the Christian faithful promises of forgiveness, renewal, and eternal life. (Lk 26:26-29; Rom 6:1-4)

I think that the reason why I feel an amount of sympathy for Pete Rose is that I can identify with his situation. If I were held to account for all of the ways that I’ve cheated and lied about myself, justice would be as unfriendly to me as it has been to him. Only having read articles written about him, it is hard to be sure whether Pete Rose thinks that justice has been withheld from him, or if he repentantly seeks mercy and forgiveness (or somewhere in between). I don’t know if Rose’s disposition even matters to MLB or the fans who are passionate either way about the scandal. I am unsure whether or not I think that Pete Rose should be reinstated to MLB and made eligible for the Hall of Fame. We, though, can find comfort amidst the scandal of our own unrighteousness that God wants to and does have mercy, and that by the blood of Christ we have been reinstated to life and righteousness.


Contributed by Ben Parviz


 

 

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